If you haven’t been following the saga of Shirley Schwab and Brandon Taliaferro, a child welfare advocate and a deputy state’s attorney (respectively) who were brought up on Monday for charges of witness tampering and perjury for attempting to protect two Lakota children from sexual abuse by a white foster parent, then the gravity of today’s happy ending (as far as this case can be said to have a happy ending) may not fully strike you:
Saying he didn’t want the jury to get bogged down with office politics, substandard work by an investigator or a dispute with the state Department of Social Services, a judge this morning morning tossed out the remaining charges against two Aberdeen residents.
Judge Gene Paul Kean said there simply wasn’t enough proof presented against Shirley Schwab and Brandon Taliaferro, so he granted a request by defense attorneys to dismiss witness tampering- and perjury-related charges.
Kean said it was only the third time in his career that he’s taken such action. The retired circuit court judge from Sioux Falls was handling the Schwab-Taliaferro case because Brown County judges had conflicts of interested from involvement in related cases.
This comes on the heels of Judge Kean dismissing a misdemeanor count of false reporting against Schwab and a misdemeanor charge of obstructing law enforcers against Taliaferro.
To fill in some of the very negative background to this positive news: Taliaferro and Schwab were in legal trouble because they brought charges against Wendy and Richard Mette, two white Aberdeen foster parents. Richard was accused, and pleaded guilty to, sexually abusing a Lakota girl who had been placed in his care; Wendy was accused of knowing about the abuse but failing to report or prevent it. However, in the politics of South Dakota’s royally screwed-up Native foster care system, where separating Lakota children from their families for “neglect” (read: poverty) is a lucrative proposition for the state, bringing in thousands of dollars per child in federal aid, getting in the way can get you thrown under the bus. That’s almost what happened to Schwab and Taliaferro, who were accused of bribing or even coercing the Lakota children into testifying against their foster parents.
But as Judge Kean made clear today, both of them are innocent of anything except trying to protect Lakota young people.
Following the SD Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) directors’ December report, which substantiated a 2011 investigation by National Public Radio into South Dakota’s ICWA violations, this news may signal that SD is on the cusp of real change for the hundreds of Indian children who have been cut off from their families and their culture. We can only hope. At the very least we can know that, for Shirley Schwab and Brandon Taliaferro, justice has been served.